The Right Environment: 5 Questions to Help Identify your Perfect Workspace

Here I am positioned at my standing desk, ‘Classical Music for Concentration’ playing through the speakers, with my thermostat set to the optimal 21 degrees C.

My desk is clear, my mind is organised, I am productive… at least I hope I am.

Actually, this isn’t true. My standing desk is a chair placed on the dining table – for those times when I’ve spent too long sitting on the same chair and my back is complaining. The music is playing because it’s been quiet for the last hour and I’m getting annoyed by the noise the dishwasher is making.

The heating is at the recommended temperature, for a change, but only today because I’m sharing the house with a child who’s ill and I would feel a little mean making him wear thermals under his duvet.

In my previous blog (Top Tips for Better Business Writing) I proposed that the first step in creating effective communications is getting the right work environment. So how do you create the best writing space for you?

For those people who spend a significant period behind a desk, there is a large amount of guidance online explaining how to set up the best workstation for health and concentration. Whether you sit to write every day, or rarely, it makes sense to make your space as conducive to the process as possible.

I’ve put together some things to think about.

Sitting or Standing?

This is a question that divides opinion. Ergonomic office chair? Standing desk? Kneeling chair or yoga ball? If you’re using your desk for hours every day, then do some research to decide what is best for you and your back.

If not, make sure you are somewhere comfortable, with an appropriate level of back support. And don’t sit still for hours on end.

The best advice is to take breaks; moving every hour is essential, being not only good for your body but also helping with concentration.

Have you tried standing to work?
Which position works best for you?
I’ve discovered that, although I prefer to sit while planning and doing research, I find writing comes more easily if I’m standing.

Clear or Crowded?

How does your workspace look?

Some desks are so rarely used for focused work that they get piled high with just about anything, completely crowding out the space. If you haven’t got the time, or willpower, to sort this out before you work – at least move it out of sight while you’re trying to concentrate.

Some things on your desk may need to be accessible, but you don’t want your desk so cluttered you can’t find items when you do need them.

Organisation is the key – make sure what you need is available, but also that you have enough space to use it.

A Thought –
Although advice suggests avoiding clutter, it is interesting that most research shows that some non-essential objects are welcome.
It’s worth noting, the more you enjoy the environment you are working in, the more productive you will be. Therefore plants and personal objects, which are good for your general mood, are good for your focus and your wellbeing.

Does your workspace help or hinder you?
Looking around, are there things which distract you, or do you feel that your space is organised to help you work smarter?

Light or Shade?

The answer is light of course. And yes, the kind of light is important too.

Natural light helps concentration and produces more positive moods. Be aware of the source of the light to ensure you’re avoiding glare. Whether a glare is in your eyes or on your screen, both will make focusing difficult and can cause headaches.

Your power over the appearance of the sun might be limited, but there are other things you can control about the light levels in your workplace? And don’t forget to plan; how long you will you be working in this position? As the room gets darker what sources of light are available? And where are they?

A Thought –
Some people are badly affected by low levels of sunlight, especially in the darker months of the year. Light bulbs, or boxes, are available which can simulate the effect of the sun; if you’re finding your productivity dips in the winter you may find these can help.

What can you do to increase the level of natural light available in your work area?
Maybe consider at which times your desk gets most sunlight; could you do your writing then?
What about taking your laptop into the garden… although that might be better waiting until spring.

Cold or Hot?

You might have your own ideas about how warm your office should be – and that might depend on who’s paying the heating bill.

A study done at Cornell University found office temperature affects both productivity and accuracy.

The report found that at cold temperatures workers achieved less and made more mistakes because energy spent on getting warm detracts focus from work.

Likewise, when the temperature rises too far a similar effect is seen. Excessive warmth can cause drowsiness – which further hurts productivity.

A thought –
The study mentioned above from Cornell University stated:
Raising the temperature from 20°C to 25°C:

– Reduces errors by 44%
– Increases keying output by 150%
– Saves ~$2.00 per worker in lost productivity

Studies found that 22°C is the best temperature for focusing on desk based tasks – does that work for you?

Quiet or Noisy?

Whether it’s the general background noise of life or music, we each have a different reaction to the sounds around us. Like so many of the situations I’ve examined here – your working environment will dictate how much you can do to change the level of noise around you.

More and more people are using headphones to control what they listen to.

Searching ‘music for concentration’ on Spotify uncovers a huge number of playlists. Whether classical, hip hop, electronic or music from films – there seems to be something for everyone. In fact, even if quiet is your thing, the selection is still extensive when the search term is “white noise”.

It’s important to determine what works best for you. Some people prefer to be in a crowded room, whether office space or cafe, when they’re reading, but have quiet when they need to compose their own words.

Do you already know how noise affects your focus?
Consider how the sounds of your environment impact on your productivity, then see what you can do to get the best out of the situation.

Whether you work at your desk on rare occasions, or often, the aim of the space is to allow you to focus and get work done.

I’ve given you some things to think about which should help you identify areas you can change to help you focus better – making the time spent at your desk more effective, and maybe shorter!

What are your thoughts? Have I missed anything? Let me know what works best for you?